Movie Review: “Ouija: Origin of Evil” – Original Recipe Terror

Written by Jeremiah Greville November 02, 2016

Ouija: Origin of EvilOuija: Origin of Evil is the prequel follow-up to 2014’s original Hasbro-produced horror flick, Ouija. The first was a victim of vast re-shoots and ended up being a forgettable foray into clichéd horror stereotypes and threadbare characterization. This one, though? It’s better by leaps and bounds, and stands on its own as a competent horror flick in a time where that’s no longer a rare boast. How does it stand against recent revelations like The Conjuring 2 and Don’t Breathe? Surprisingly, it holds up in that regard as well, putting new spins on old images, and breathing some life into tired, dead tropes.

Ouija: Origin of Evil tells the story of the Alice Zander and her two daughters, Paulina and Doris, who work with her in their family fortune-telling business. The trio runs a well-meaning scam out of their home while still recovering from the loss of their husband and father, but all that changes when the older daughter, Paulina, suggests they add a Ouija board to their psychic routine. Things start to go predictably bad when the younger daughter, Doris, starts playing with the board on her own and demonstrating real psychic abilities–to her mother’s delight, and to her sister’s horror. You can pretty much guess what happens from there, and if you’ve seen any of the trailers, it’s going to be no surprise. But the joy in this film is not in the surprises, but in the execution of the familiar. There’s an uncommon care paid to the characters and to the scares in this movie, and it elevates the entire film.

“We played in a graveyard”

As I mentioned before, if you’ve seen the trailer, a lot of the wind will be taken out the sails of this film. Those weird, unsettling images of Doris’s face? Yep, they’re just as weird and unsettling in the finished product as they are in the advertising, but you’ll know exactly what to expect by the time they come. If you have any interest in this film at all, and have NOT seen a trailer or clicked the one above–then DON’T. A film like this isn’t about subtlety, but it’s advertising should be, and has significantly reduced the effectiveness of several scenes with it’s ham-fisted show all, tell none marketing. There’s stuff to love outside of those frights, but since they’re such a big part of what makes the film work, it’s a shame they weren’t held back.

Elizabeth Reaser in Ouija: Origin of Evil

While Ouija: Origin of Evil is far scarier than the original, it’s not as scary as the hype would lead you to believe. What makes this movie work is the humanity of Alice, played by Elizabeth Reaser. Everyone in the cast is commendable, and the script is praiseworthy for making them all sympathetic, but it’s Reaser’s Alice that makes it all work. Not because she’s the centre of the terror that’s happening or the centre of its eventual resolution, but because of a simple romantic subplot. I know, I know–romance? Yuck! But trust me when I say it completely makes you care for her as a character more than any faux family drama or breathy terror ever could, and is treated with a unique respect that’s rare to see nowadays.

“Roger? Honey, are you there?”

Though if we’re talking about characters, the focus is of course on youngest daughter Doris, played by newcomer Lulu Wilson. She’s legitimately frightening and always creepy, and the film does a great job of giving her several moments to shine. She’s often framed in the foreground or background, pulling deformed demonic expressions unbeknownst to those around her. It’s a old trick for sure, and often feels like the only one the filmmakers have up their sleeve, but the film continues to make it fresh with a constantly updating menagerie of menacing looks. Wilson is adept at making the audience second-guess who’s side she’s really on, and will probably have a long acting career ahead of her. My only gripe with her performance would be that it’s equally too innocent and too mature–a mixture that helps make her creepy, but hurts her line delivery at times.

Ouija: Origin of Evil

As for the horror throughout, it will jar those who go unprepared, but offer little to viewers who are used to such fare. What is there to appreciate is just how the horror is presented. The focus in this movie is not on the terror but on the characters, and director Mike Flanagan picks his moments to place the terror beats around character ones, and not the other way around. In another surprisingly effective choice, Flanagan has chosen to show more of the evil than you’d expect, more that has been seen in a conventional horror film since Andrés Muschietti’s 2013 flick, Mama. By this, I mean that little is hidden or left to the imagination—you’re shown exactly what’s happening, and where the terror is. This goes against conventional horror movie wisdom, but somehow works well here. In one of the most memorable scenes of the film, you actually see a demonic possession—demon and all, and it makes the moment all the more terrifying because of it.

“The rest is the business of the living”

If you’re a fan of the original Ouija film, you’ll want to stay for the after-credits scene. While this movie stands on its own and could have easily thrown away all links to the critically-panned original, it holds true to the same mythology and the after-credits scene pays that forward. In an time when we’re used to disposable world-building, reboots, and re-imaginings, it’s respectable that the filmmakers here chose to stay with their story rather than abandon it. The faith shown in the material has ultimately led to a stronger movie because of it. The quality of Ouija: Origin of Evil has not only made the movie stand among the best of modern day horror, but elevated a lesser film retroactively. And frankly, that’s more impressive than any Ouija board could ever be.

My Review: 7.5/10

Ouija Origin of Evil Theatrical Poster

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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